Asperger's,Autism Spectrum Disorder

Routines and Why I Need It

As I’ve talked about before it’s all the little things that really affect me. It’s the things that most of you out there probably barely notice. But, I notice. In fact, I can’t avoid it.

I’ve meet others on the spectrum like me and they all react to different things. We all have our own unique past, a set of experiences that define our inner most anxieties and worries. I would argue, even those who are not on the spectrum are like that – we all remember, either consciously or unconsciously, the things in our past that hurt us. It’s a shame, really, that our past can be so difficult to let go of.

I’ve experienced trauma, something I will talk about more some other day, but the trauma I’ve been through still affects me deeply and I am very much aware of it. I can’t walk down a street barely lit by street-lamps without feeling flashbacks to what happened. The thing is, to me, those big things that happened to me are things I’ve learned to live with. I know what will happen when it gets dark and I know how I’ll feel walking home alone in a city. It’s the little things that really mess up my life these days.

One could have hoped that I would get used to those little things, but it’s not that simple. Just because one thing was a problem one day, it doesn’t mean it’ll be a problem the next. I never know just how sensitive or strong I’ll be on a given day. There’s no consistency to it – at least not in the details. I know I react to light and I know I react to sound and smells, but I don’t know which will be a problem every day.

It’s like waking up to a game of Russian roulette every day. I don’t know when the bullet will fire and kill me or even if it will.

This is one reason I sometimes seem to cling to structure. I crave consistency like a drug addict and sometimes ends up going to the same extent to get my daily fix.

It can sound extreme, yes, I know. Can you imagine it, though? Living every day worried and afraid what will break you today? Hoping you will be strong enough to survive the hurt and embarrassment that will most likely follow? Praying you can hold it in until no one can see you break down?

It’s really no wonder to me that I need routines in my life to function. It rather impresses me that I don’t need more routines to feel secure.

That being said, lately my routine has been off. I’ve had a lot of changes in my life and I couldn’t just continue in the same way – my rhythm didn’t match my life anymore. When that happens, we can either go back to our old life and stay the same as we were, the safe option in my opinion, but that isn’t our only choice. We can choose to change our rhythm to match our new life. This is definitely not the safe option, no, far from it.

Of course, when we’ve been living one way for a really long time it can be such a struggle to change how you live. We do things so often without even thinking about it simply because we always do it. A lot of the time we hardly notice we do it, right? You know that feeling to, when you do think without a second thought because the movement is so ingrained in your body it’s like it happens on its own. It’s like that.

Even when that doesn’t happen, we still struggle though. Searching for a new rhythm to match our new life whether that be a lifestyle choice or a new partner, job or new place to live, is always based on trial and error. We need to experiment to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. If we knew from the start what would work and what doesn’t then life would be so much easier, but also a bit less fun, right?

Making mistakes is part of what makes life interesting.

The things I regret from my past is not really all the stupid things I did, but how I felt about it at the time. I wish I could have ignored my bullies when I was a child and not believed in their words. I did believe they were right, I believed I was stupid and hopeless, and that the world would be a better place without me in it. I don’t think so now, but I wish I hadn’t felt that way at the time. My mistakes, no, they are not something I regret. They gave me experiences I would never have had otherwise, they taught me what not to do and they taught me more about what person I truly am.

Sometimes, getting on the wrong bus and ending up in a different, unknown place can be the beginning of a great adventure, stressful if we let it be, but amazing if we chose it. Sure, you might miss out on something you had planned, but what will happen in its place is something we can’t imagine before it happens. That can be magical, if we let it be. Missing out on an event we really had looked forward to is always sad, sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves doing something else instead – even if it’s not what we wanted originally.

Now, getting back to the thing about routines. I need to figure out how to get things done or it just won’t get done. I don’t just eat when I’m hungry, I forget to drink and I have trouble sleeping at night.

I need to force myself to eat sometimes, because I know I need food to survive, but that doesn’t mean I always want to eat. I get so easily frustrated when tired or hungry, but I don’t always know that I feel tired or hungry in the moment.

So, my routine is doing the same things at the same time without fail. I try to get up at the same time and then I do things in the same order; wake up, a glass of water, shower, coffee and then I try to eat or at least have a protein shake. I can’t eat early in the morning, so I structured my morning in such a way that eating is the last thing I do before I move on to my work.

I have been trying to drink enough water, but I forget. Now, the first thing I do in the morning is drink a glass of water. Always. It’s part of my new rhythm. I need to do these things, even though others might find it silly to always be like this. I need it, because I will forget it if I don’t and then I get sick. I get sick and tired when I don’t eat, drink and sleep – it’s obvious! The difference is that it’s not something I just do naturally. I need the structured routines, the schedule in my head, to do it at all.

Now, I am trying to work on my evenings, because sleep is so important to me and I already often have sleepless nights. I wake up several times every night and get just enough sleep to feel like I slept, but not enough to feel rested. Then I feel nauseous the next day.

It becomes a self-destructive spiral, because when I feel too tired and nauseous I can’t just force myself to eat and then I get even more sick. Then I end up not following my schedule and my whole day is thrown off. I don’t get food, I don’t drink and then when I need to sleep at night it’s difficult for me to sleep because my body aches, I feel sick and I am so tired my head is pretty much already asleep – but my body isn’t in that same state. Because of the aches it’s like my body doesn’t relax and every time I feel myself falling asleep, I wake up because of that. It’s like my body is keeping me awake, preventing me from relaxing and sleeping.

When you see someone like me sticking to a certain schedule, or craving consistency like me, then remember that there’s always a reason for it. We might not know exactly why we need what we need, but if we need it then it’s because we need it. It’s not possible to just ‘pull yourself together’ simply because someone tells me to. Breaking my structure, which I so carefully plan to survive, means breaking all of my structure. Not just the little bit you broke, it all falls apart – like removing a card from a house build of cards. Nothing is left standing.

I spend so much time creating my new set of routines, it’s the way it is for a reason. It’s not random, but carefully planned and though out. It’s specific because I need it to be. This is not something I just do because it calms me down or makes me happy, I do it to function. I need it to function.

I see the so-called normal people functioning even without such rigorous structure and I understand how hard it can be to understand people like me – it can be difficult to understand how it can be necessary to survive and function in the world.

I understand because to me it is incredible that people can function without routines. Some even flee from it and it seems like a miracle that people can still remember drinking water and eating food and getting enough sleep. I don’t understand how you do it, but I understand that it can make it difficult to understand people who are not like that.

What I really wanted to say this time is really just that some of us need structure in our lives to function, and whether you are like that or not, please remember and respect that. My routine is what saves me from the darkness of my own mind, it helps me function when nothing else does. I can respect that others don’t need it like I do, but I can’t just change and not rely on routine. We all need to figure out who we are and what we want in life and this is essential to me.


Life with Autism Spectrum Disorder is not always easy, but it doesn't have to be impossible. Since I was diagnosed myself, I have been trying to raise autism awareness and share my own experiences and thoughts about life as well as my search for a happy and fulfilling life.

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